According to a French minister, apologies and accountability for crimes against humanity are a vain enterprise.
The Elysee Palace’s response to a report on France's colonial rule in Algeria - which President Emmanuel Macron himself commissioned - was swift. There will be no apology for colonisation and the millions that died at the hands of France during the 132 year occupation.
French historian Benjamin Stora submitted a 145-page report to Macron looking at “issues relating to colonisation and the Algerian war,” in a bid to create a shared understanding of what happened in Algeria and France’s role in particular which continues to strain relations with the former colony.
“The game was rigged from the beginning,” says Yasser Louati, a French human rights defender when asked about Macron’s response to the report.
In 2017, Macron admitted that France’s colonial past was a “crime against humanity” but much like the country’s collaboration with Nazi Germany under Vichy rule, coming to terms with the country’s past in Algeria has been a controverisal prospect.
“It comes as a surprise therefore that the commission did not choose two historians one from Algeria and one from France and we see again that the narrative is once again French,” added Louati speaking to TRT World.
Benjamin Stora, who led the commission, called for France to recognise it’s past in Algeria but warned against a “culture of repentance,” which would see Paris apologising for its crimes which could also lead to reparations.
Macron is not dealing with France’s past in a “candid” manner, says Louati adding that the president is “postponing the inevitable. One day France will have to apologise.”
“Historians must be given the full reigns to establish the truth or getting close to it and Benjamin Stora has been criticised for putting on the same level France the occupying power and Algerians, the occupied population, who defended themselves against the coloniser,” added Louati.
An official from the Macron government has been unequivocal that there “there is no question of repentance. Repentance is vanity,” one said.
Some, like French Minister of Education Jean-Michel Blanquer see the dark and sinister influence of the US education system penetrating France which looks at colonialism and race critically. Academics import these dangerous tools of looking at the past have been called “islamo-leftists” by the education minister.
Some French academics have also sought to ward off the apparently dangerous influence of “Anglo-Saxon” ideologies on French campuses expressing support of Jean-Michel Blanquer approach.
In a list of recommendations of potential “gestures” that could foster reconciliation, the commission recommends that a portrait of Emir Abdelkader, a religious and military figure who fought against the French occupation in the 19th century, be erected on the 60th anniversary of Algeria's independence in 2022.
In addition it recommends the sword of Abdelkader, stolen by France, be returned to Algeria.
Other notable recommendations included recognising France’s role in assassinating important national figures and publishing the names of people that were disappeared and killed by France and their remains never found.
Last year France returned 24 skulls of men who died fighting French occupation that were being controversially displayed in a museum in Paris as trophies. The macabre display was a recurring source of tension between the countries.
Algerians fought an eight year war of independence against France between 1954 and 1962, which resulted in more than 1.5 million Algerians dying. France was ultimately forced to leave, however, since then, relations between the two countries have remained frosty.